City Council met for a special meeting Tuesday to hear updates on the implementation of a pilot program that would introduce body-worn cameras to Berkeley’s police department.
The year-long pilot program will equip 20 BPD patrol officers with body-worn cameras and will cost the city of Berkeley roughly $45,000 in equipment and storage. The Police Review Commission, or PRC, and BPD have yet to finalize the policy surrounding these devices and discussed areas of disagreement between them at the meeting.
“It’s long overdue,” said George Lippman, a member of the PRC who chaired the commission’s subcommittee on body-worn cameras. “Berkeley is not an early adopter of this (initiative) relative to other cities.”
The PRC, with input from BPD, has been working to create an effective body-worn camera policy for months. At its June 28 meeting, City Council agreed to fund the pilot program amid a contentious budget debate.
With this funding, the city is ready to seek proposals for cameras immediately. Under this timeline, body cameras could reach Berkeley patrol officers within a few months, according to Police Chief Michael Meehan.
There are, however, still four remaining unresolved issues between the PRC and BPD on the policy governing the use of the body-worn cameras preventing that policy from being finalized.
“We do not want the pilot program to open without an agreement,” said George Perezvelez, chair of the PRC.
The discrepancies include a PRC recommendation that would require BPD officers to file a report before viewing a recording in any use-of-force situations. BPD prefers that this rule only apply to officer-involved shootings and incidents involving death.
According to BPD, there are roughly 40 to 50 use-of-force incidents involving police officers per year in Berkeley.
During the meeting, BPD explained that in both officer-involved shootings and in fatal incidents, the officer becomes a subject of the investigation and is only responsible for providing a statement. In other use-of-force incidents that don’t involve death or shootings, officers involved remain as investigators and are therefore obligated to create accurate and expedient reports of the incidents, necessitating the use of video.
“We don’t want officers tailoring their reports to what the video shows,” Lippman said.
At the meeting, PRC and BPD officials also discussed their disagreements over the department having to release video footage to the PRC and record all interrogations. Additionally, BPD wants to allow officers to use personal recording devices in situations where a body-worn camera is not available or not working, while members of the PRC expressed concern that these videos would lack the regulation and safeguards of body-worn cameras.
According to Perezvelez, resolving the four issues will require that he and the PRC vice chair meet with Meehan and interim City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley.